Success in the salary-cap era is all about the most effective management of cap space. According to our new Accolade Index, the Pittsburgh Penguins have enjoyed the most success since 2005-06 — in all its various forms.
The Accolade Index assigns a single point for each individual award won by a member of its team, with a half-point for making the first-team All-Star team, and a quarter point for making the second-team All-Star team.
At the team level, points are awarded for making the playoffs, winning the division, winning the Presidents’ Trophy, and each playoff series win, with bonus points for making the Stanley Cup Final and winning the Stanley Cup.
While the Vegas Golden Knights won’t be eligible for this list until next season, they stand to gain at least three points for making the playoffs, winning their division, and for the likely Jack Adams Award for their coach Gerard Gallant. Additional playoff success or individual awards could boost them even higher.
Here is where every non-Vegas NHL team ranks currently, pending this season’s final results:
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Landing Marc-Andre Fleury, Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby in the top two spots of the draft in the preceding three seasons obviously gave the Penguins a huge head start on the salary-cap era. However, there are teams with similar advantages that aren’t nearly as high on this list.
The key wasn’t just drafting these players, but carefully managing the contracts of these three players and building a competitive roster around them — that’s how the Penguins have achieved more success than any other team in the 12 seasons that followed.
The Penguins rank first with 19 playoff series victories and four appearances in the Stanley Cup Final, are tied for first with three Stanley Cups, and are about to make their 12th playoff appearance, likely to be tied for first with the Sharks (if both teams qualify).
In terms of individual awards, they are first with four Art Ross Trophy winners, and tied for first with Washington with three Hart Trophy winners, and second to the Capitals with nine first-team All-Stars.
Similarly buoyed from drafting Jonathan Toews third overall in 2006 and Patrick Kane first overall in 2007, the Blackhawks have served as the textbook example of proper cap management. On the three occasions they were slammed up against the cap, Chicago made the right decisions about whom to keep, and extracted maximum return for the star players that had to be moved.
It appears that the salary cap has finally caught up to the Blackhawks, who are unlikely to add any points this season, and might slide down to fourth place at season’s end. For now, they rank second to Pittsburgh with 16 playoff series victories and with three appearances in the Stanley Cup Final, and are tied with the Penguins with three Stanley Cups. They are also tied for second with the Red Wings with two Norris trophies, and are one of three teams with two Calder Trophy winners.
Outside of the playoffs, the most accomplished team in the salary-cap era is the Capitals. They lead the NHL with three Presidents’ Trophies and seven division titles — and might add one more this season.
Thanks largely to Alex Ovechkin, they have a great deal of individual accolades as well, including the most Rocket Richard Trophies, a league-leading 10 first-team All-Stars, and they are tied with Pittsburgh with three Hart Trophies. They are also the only team whose coaches won the Jack Adams twice.
The Red Wings might be heading into a rebuild, but their playoff success early on has helped establish them near the top of the list with 11 playoff appearances, which is currently tied for first, and 12 series victories, which is tied for third.
Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk added individual accolades, lifting the Red Wings to first with four Norris Trophy wins and second to the Bruins with three Selke Awards.
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It’s remarkable that a team that traded away star forwards like Joe Thornton, Tyler Seguin and Phil Kessel would still be so high on this list. And, as one of the few teams at the top of the list that is trending up, the Bruins have an opportunity to climb even higher.
Thus far, a lot of their success has been on the individual basis, as the Bruins lead the league with three Vezina Trophies, four Selke Trophies, and rank third with six first-team All-Stars. But, they also added big points by reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2010-11 and 2012-13, emerging victorious on the first occasion.
A league-leading seventh division title might be out of reach for Anaheim, but the Ducks can climb into a tie for second with 11 playoff appearances, and earn an opportunity to win their 13th playoff series of the era, which will break a tie for third with the Red Wings.
Even with the departure of Patrick Marleau, along with Joe Thornton’s knee injury, the Sharks are likely to make their 12th playoff appearance in 13 seasons, which will be tied with the Penguins for first in the span. That will also give them an opportunity to win a 12th playoff series, breaking a tie with the Rangers for fifth. San Jose ranks second with six second-team All-Stars.
The Canucks are tied with the Ducks for second with six division titles, trailing the Capitals by one. They also rank second to Pittsburgh with two Art Ross Trophy winners, Daniel Sedin and Henrik Sedin. Of course, the Canucks are currently in a rebuild, and unlikely to add any more Accolade Index points in the near future.
Stalling at 11 playoff appearances this season, the Rangers will drop out of a first-place tie, and into a second-place tie with the Red Wings and Ducks. Aside from All-Star team selections, Henrik Lundqvist’s Vezina in 2011-12 is the team’s only individual award of the salary-cap era.
Despite winning the Stanley Cup on two occasions, the Kings have had a relatively average level of success recently. Drew Doughty’s Norris in 2015-16 was the lone regular-season award, and the Kings are one of seven teams without a division title in the salary-cap era — and possibly only one of five after this season.
The oldest and most celebrated hockey team has been pretty mediocre in the salary-cap era, and have won only six playoff series. Given that their current 2017-18 points percentage of .438 ranks 91st in their 100-season NHL history, there’s obviously room for improvement in 2018-19 and beyond.
The Senators began the salary-cap era as the NHL’s strongest team but fizzled toward mediocrity almost immediately. One of the bright spots is captain Erik Karlsson, who has been named to a first-team All-Star four times, and whose two Norris trophies lift Ottawa into second place behind the Red Wings in that category.
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Both the Lightning and the Predators are on the verge of winning their first division titles of the salary-cap era, which will leave just five teams at zero.
The Lightning are also one of seven teams without a first-team All-Star, but they lead the league with 11 second-team All-Stars, which is almost double the Sharks, who are in second place with six. Tampa Bay ranks second to the Capitals with three Rocket Richard Trophy wins.
The Devils accumulated almost all of their Accolade Index points in the first five seasons of the salary-cap era, in which they won the division crown four times, and goalie Martin Brodeur won the Vezina twice. Now that the team’s rebuild is nearing completion, they might begin climbing the list anew.
The Predators are about to add a lot of Accolade Index points with their first division title, and possibly the Presidents’ Trophy, too. The next milestone would be for one of their players and/or coaches to win an individual award (beyond the All-Star team) — Pekka Rinne for the Vezina, perhaps?
With eight playoff appearances, seven series victories and one appearance in the Stanley Cup Final, the Flyers have had a reasonable level of success at the team level. However, Jakub Voracek’s first-team All-Star selection in 2014-15 is the team’s only individual award.
The Hurricanes kicked off the salary-cap era with a Stanley Cup, and captain Rod Brind’Amour won the first of two consecutive Selke Awards — but Carolina hasn’t achieved many accolades since then.
With Toronto and Winnipeg set to make the playoffs for the third time since 2005-06, the Hurricanes will be left in a last-place tie with Edmonton and Florida, with two appearances apiece, if none of the three qualify this season.
Excepting the first three seasons, the Blues have been one of the league’s more competitive teams of this era but haven’t been able to translate that into very many accolades at either the team or individual level. In particular, they have only four playoff series wins to show for seven appearances, which included two seasons where they won the division title.
With Buffalo in the draft lottery once again, and set to extend its playoff drought to seven seasons, it’s easy to forget how strong the Sabres were for the first six seasons of the salary-cap era. In 2005-06 and 2006-07, the Sabres earned a combined 223 points in the standings, a Presidents’ Trophy in 2006-07, and reached the Eastern Conference finals both seasons. It could be a while before this team reaches those heights again.
Before the salary-cap era, the Stars were one of the league’s most successful teams, earning at least 100 points and the division title in six of the previous eight seasons, along with a Cup in 1999. While the team continued that success through 2007-08, the Stars have had limited success at either the team or individual level during the past decade.
Immediately before the salary-cap era, the Flames arguably came within a video review of the Stanley Cup, losing to the Lightning in seven games in 2004. Since then, they have won only a single playoff series despite making six trips to the postseason. Since only two of those appearances have occurred in the past nine seasons, the Flames are unlikely to climb this list.
The Wild are set to extend their playoff streak to six seasons, but these appearances are just about the only accolades they have earned in the salary-cap era. They have won their division only once, have only two playoff series victories, plus one individual player award, and one first- and second-team All-Star selection. However, they have the opportunity to vault up this list this season, since the five preceding teams probably will miss the playoffs.
Colorado is enjoying its finest season of the salary-cap era, other than the surprise 112-point 2013-14 season. The Avs can climb this list by making the playoffs, winning a playoff series, and if Nathan MacKinnon wins an individual award and/or is named to an All-Star team. Colorado is one of only three teams with two Calder Trophy winners.
Edmonton is tied for last with two playoff appearances, and is one of seven teams (soon to be five teams) who haven’t won a division title in the salary-cap era. The Oilers’ only real success was in 2005-06, when they reached the Stanley Cup Final. The hope, of course, is that Connor McDavid can boost these totals during his tenure.
The red-hot Blue Jackets are ready to jump into the playoffs for only the fourth time in franchise history, where they are one of four teams without a series victory in the salary-cap era. They are also one of seven teams (soon to be five) without a division title. Their lone area of success is in goal, where Sergei Bobrovsky is a two-time first-team All-Star, and his two Vezina Trophies paces the team to second, behind the Bruins.
The salary cap doesn’t mean very much to a franchise whose financial constraints are even more limited. The Coyotes’ strongest season was 2011-12 when they won their division, made the playoffs for the third (and most recent) time, and advanced to the Western Conference finals.
The Panthers are coming on strong, and making a promising bid to make the playoffs for only the third time in the salary-cap era, which will move them out of a last-place tie. If they succeed, then they will also have the opportunity to take their name off the list of four teams without a playoff series victory. However, they probably will remain one of only two teams that hasn’t had any players named to either the first or second All-Star team.
As John Tavares is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, it’s fair to categorize this era of Islanders history as a disappointment. They have made the playoffs only four times, are one of seven teams (soon to be five) without a division title, and have only a single playoff series win. Tavares himself has the team’s only individual accolade, which was a lone selection to the first All-Star team in 2014-15.
29. Atlanta Thrashers/Winnipeg Jets: 3.5 points
At the moment, the Thrashers and Jets franchise is tied for last, with only two playoff appearances in the salary-cap era, and is one of four organizations without a playoff series victory. Both of those situations can change this season, and the abundance of young talent can finally help this team climb the list.
Earning their first division title is a little outside of their reach, but the Maple Leafs are poised to break away from a last-place tie with their third playoff appearance, and can earn their first playoff series victory of the salary-cap era. Auston Matthews, who already has the team’s only individual award with his Calder Trophy in 2016-17, might someday soon help the team overcome its next hurdle by being named to either the first or second All-Star team.